Aarti Sequeira won Food Network Star season 6 and expanded her popular blog into a cooking show, Aarti Party (catch it on Food Network, Sundays at 7:30am/6:30c). As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Aarti shares her insider’s take on what went down each week.
Oh man, how I loved this challenge! Wasn’t it good? I think this might have been my favorite challenge in Food Network Star history.
Perhaps it’s because I’m a journalist by training — I worked at CNN, and I produced a documentary about the genocide in Darfur that aired on HBO. So the prospect of being thrown into an unfamiliar field to harvest stories and secrets from the locals, and then recount them to an audience? Hooray and huzzah! And while at first blush this week’s challenge seemed to favor one team in particular (I’m looking at you, Team Giada), this is something that every Food Network hopeful needs to master.
Food television is changing — not only must you be able to cook, be able to talk about what you’re cooking and relate to your viewers, but you must also be able to take viewers on a journey, pull them along with you as you experience food cooked by other hands, and make people feel like they’re sitting at the table with you. Look at the success of shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, United Tastes of America and Heat Seekers, and you’ll see what I mean.
So, future Food Network Stars, here are a few of tips on presenting like the star that you are.
1) Don’t “Present”.
Forget about this being a presentation. All those memories of standing at the front of the classroom, speaking robotically about the major themes in literary classics — forget ‘em.
Instead, speak colloquially (but coherently), as you would to a friend sitting across the table from you. Literally imagine that person: It could be your best friend, your spouse, your grandmother, someone you feel completely comfortable around. A news anchor once told me that he always imagined he was talking to his favorite 70-something-year-old aunt when he was reporting. Cute, huh?
See, when you do that, suddenly you start to sound like a human being. All the formality will evaporate from your speech. Your voice will soften, as will your jaw. You’ll smile more, and your eyes might even light up. It’s a small adjustment that reaps rich rewards. It’s what Alton said to Judson in his Producers’ Challenge: “Just talk to me. Stop selling me something.”
I think of Ippy, Martie and Martita here; each of them made me feel like I was sipping coffee in their living room as they told me about this great new place they’d found. I mean, Martie was so relaxed, she hitched her leg up on a seat! Her joke about being able to fit that sandwich in her mouth seemed genuine, unforced and, heck — any time you can make people laugh, you win. Martita brings this sensual warmth into the room; everything seems to slow down a little, the lights dim. Also, I want her hair.
2) Tell a story (but keep it short).
The essence of practically all entertainment is storytelling. Every film, every TV show, even every recipe is a story. In journalism school, there was this theory called “the blade of grass.” The idea was that if you were covering a huge issue, like the Farm Bill, you’d find a farmer and tell his singular story in order to illustrate the larger, more abstract issue. It put a human face on the largely dry jargon of bills, amendments and votes — and everyone loves a story.
The same thing applies here. You have to be inquisitive when you’re in the field; ask a lot of questions to draw stories out of the characters you’re talking to. Giada gave great advice to her team when she ran through a quick list of questions to ask: Why are you here, what’s the history of this place, who comes here, do you have any funny stories? You kind of have to be a nosey parker in order to get the goods from people. Being genuinely curious goes a long way.
Yvan’s enthusiasm about not only the mozzarella, but also the guys who make it, lit up the bus. You can’t force your joy over a product (as poor Judson learned), so you’ve got to find something about it that you can love. Yvan seemed to love the history behind these artisans as much as he loved the cheese itself, and that showed. So he told their story, and he kept it short and sweet.
Josh, on the other hand … Well, I’m still not sure what Joe Pesci had to do with the sausage place. We can all lose track of time and, trust me, I’m thoroughly guilty of taking too long to tell a story (look at how long this post is!), but if it’s a long story that’s relevant to the task at hand? At least you’re one for two.
3) Fail with a smile.
Watching someone nail a take without any mistakes is pretty cool, but watching someone make a mistake, laugh about it, shake it off and keep going? That’s memorable and relatable — and winning. I know firsthand how hard it is to perform when the network is watching. Mistakes are going to happen, so embrace them. Let your warts and freak flag fly. I felt awful for Emily when motion sickness took over. I know that feeling. Heck, we all know that feeling. That’s why I was hoping that she’d acknowledge it in her presentation. You should be honest, laugh it off, finish your presentation and forget about being perfect. Be brave enough to show your human side, because we’re all human.
Mistakes are a gift, actually, because they provide the opportunity to be spontaneous, to let the real you leak out. The more you try to plug up the leaks (bad metaphor, I know. Forgive me, Emily.), the harder it is to appear natural. So forget about perfection. Perfection is nice. Being real and honest about your imperfections? That’s an act of bravery, a daring finger in the eye of how things are “supposed” to be — it’s the makings of a star.
What do you think? Whose presentation did you like the most? The least? Did you agree with who went home?
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